Fresh Ground Stories is an open-mic event for telling true, personal stories on stage without notes. Each month I choose a different theme and the stories should in some way reflect that theme.
We meet on the third Thursday of each month on Zoom until I find another live venue (the Starbucks we were doing our show at recently closed).
If you’ve never told a story with us, please consider attending our monthly online storytelling workshop (link at the bottom). Or you can email me and we can set up a phone call to work on your story. It’s usually better to attend at least one FGS show first before you tell a story, so you understand and kind of stories we’re looking for.
Everyone is welcome to just come and listen, but if you want to tell a story at FGS there are some important rules and guidelines you’ll have to follow. The rules are important for a lot of reasons, so please don’t ask if you can break them.
The stories we’re looking for are ones that are not only important to you but will be worth sharing with a room full of strangers. The audience is the most important person in the room. If you aren’t sure if your story is right for FGS, please email me as early as possible so we can talk about it. At the bottom of these guidelines, there are links to other shows where your story might be a perfect fit. Most people have one story they always tell at parties and barbecues. Those aren’t the ones we’re looking for. We’re looking for stories that require you to be a little vulnerable and hopefully a little introspective.
1. The story must be true and have happened to you. It should also mean something to you. We’re looking for stories that tell us something about yourself. Not every story has a moral, but there should be something in there that tells us why the story is important to you or how it changed you. It doesn’t have to be serious. Funny stories can be just as meaningful as sad ones. The main thing is that you’re telling a story that will resonate with the audience and not just people who know you.
2. The story should be mostly about you. We aren’t here to tell stories about people who aren’t around to defend themselves. So make sure the story is mostly about you. That doesn’t mean you can’t be honest about what you’ve lived through. It just means we’re not here to throw people under the bus no matter how much they might deserve it.
3. No social commentary. This isn’t a town hall meeting. If your goal is to tell us how you feel about racism, sexism, the patriarchy, etc. this isn’t the show for you. Most of the folks who come to FGS already feel the same as you and we’re not here to pat ourselves on the back. There are many other great shows where those stories are a perfect fit. My guiding principle on is this: Opinions separate us and stories bring us together.
I do, however, believe that storytelling is a great tool for helping to make the world a better place. I regularly volunteer my time to coach people on TED talks, advocacy speeches, stories for other shows, etc. I absolutely support anyone using their personal story to create positive change. If you’re a regular teller at FGS and want help on something like that, send me an email and I’ll be happy to help you out.
I don’t allow stories with social commentary at FGS because I need a break from it. Outside of FGS, I’ll support your storytelling in any way I can. Here’s a list of shows in the area where you can probably find the perfect place for your story: https://www.facebook.com/groups/198209904060632
4. Keep it under 8 minutes. Shorter is better. It’s very important that you practice out loud with a timer to make sure you’re under 8 minutes. There’s no minimum length for a story, so don’t feel like you have to stretch it to 8 minutes. We’ve heard lots of great 4-5 minute stories.
5. You can’t read your story or use notes. We want you to tell the story, not recite it. I know you think you can tape the story to your monitor when we’re on Zoom. Trust me, we can tell you’re reading it.
6. Practice out loud at home or on friends. This is very important. Your ears are better editors than your eyes. You’ll hear your story differently when you speak it than when you practice it in your head. The audience is giving you their time and attention. You have to respect that by practicing your story out loud as much as possible in the weeks before the show. I’m always happy to help people on their stories either over the phone or by email. Seriously. I enjoy it and it makes for a better show. I almost never tell a story publicly that I haven’t run by a whole bunch of people first.
7. Know your last line first. The best advice I ever got for storytelling was to know the last line of your story before you start writing it. The last line should be something that wraps everything up and tells us what you learned or how the experience changed you.
Here is a great short article on what questions you should ask yourself when you’re coming up with a story: https://mailchi.mp/104f63f44a5a/you-should-be-able-to-answer-this-question-before-ever-telling-your-story?e=a4dd06ea14
Here are four short articles by one of my favorite storytellers with all kinds of good advice on the kind of stories we’re looking for at FGS:
Here’s a breakdown I did a little while ago on a five-minute story by Stephen Tobolowsky. It’s from an email I sent out to everyone in the Meetup group. It’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about storytelling, but it explains a lot of the stuff I talk about when I help people on stories.
8. Sharing is more important than performing. Don’t worry about turning your story into a performance. Tell the story as if you were sharing it with a friend over coffee. Great stories come from a place of humility and vulnerability. That doesn’t mean they can’t be funny and lighthearted. Most of the stories at FGS are very funny, but they’re more self-deprecating than what you hear at a comedy show.
9. You need to keep your story clean. No stories about sex, poop, boogers, or genitals. Save those stories for your friends. Or me! I love those stories. Just not at my sh. Also, no cursing or sexual innuendo. I purposely set the bar higher for this show. If a joke depends on cursing or sexual innuendo, then you’re shopping at the dollar store of comedy. That’s fine for regular life. I talk that way all the time. But not at FGS. Don’t go for the easy laugh at this show. The audience will appreciate you for it. My guiding principle on this is: Don’t be gross.
Most other topics are fine. We’ve had stories of death, loss, suicide, heartbreak, mental illness, abortion, and human trafficking. All of these topics are fine as long as you tell them with honesty and vulnerability while leaving your social commentary out. Trust me on this. I know it feels good to end your story with a rant or a strongly-held opinion, but that’s not what this audience is showing up for. FGS is where we take the energy we normally spend examining other people’s lives and use it to examine our own. Plus, it doesn’t take much courage to give your opinion to a room full of people who probably also feel that way.
If you put some thought into it, you can tell a story on almost any subject. Choose your words carefully. I know it’s hard, but it’ll be worth it. The audience will love you for it.
10. Don’t plug your own show, website, blog, book, etc, after your story. Talk to me beforehand if you want to let people know about a story-related event. There’s a chance I’ll remind people of it in my thank you email later.
Just because something isn’t listed in the rules doesn’t mean it’s ok to do. I have the final say in how the show is run and what I allow on stage. I hate to write this last rule, but every now and then someone wants to argue over how I run the show, so I finally had to write this stuff down in black and white. If you’re unhappy with any of these rules, I encourage you to attend one of the other wonderful storytelling shows in the area. Thanks for your cooperation and understanding.
Links to other shows in the area where you can tell stories: